Last updated on: 4/23/2008 | Author:

Are Electronic Voting Machines the Best Way to Provide Access to Language Minorities?

PRO (yes)


The Asian American Justice Center, an Asian American civil rights organization, in an Apr. 16, 2007 letter entitled “Why Different Voting Systems Must be Available to Members of the Minority Language Community,” available on the Asian American Justice Center website, said:

“[W]e would oppose federal legislation that would ban states from using direct electronic recording voting systems… we insist that proper considerations as to what best meets the needs of the minority language voters in that jurisdiction are taken, and that our communities are afforded the discretion to choose among these and other alternatives… In many jurisdictions, electronic touch screen voting systems have been demonstrated to increase access and turnout among minority language voters…

As long as the needs for all Americans, including the needs of the minority language community are met, and the machines used are accessible, private, secure, and reliable, we will continue to support voting machine technology that meets these needs. We demean our history of advancing democracy when we, at the expense of minority language voters, forever deny these voters the right to vote on the most accessible and reliable voting machine.”

Apr. 16, 2007


Tova Andrea Wang, Senior Program Officer and Democracy Fellow at The Century Foundation, in an May 26, 2004 article entitled “Understanding the Debate Over Electronic Voting Machines,” wrote:

“Jurisdictions across the country have been moving away from paper-based and mechanical methods of voting towards the use of so-called direct recording electronic (DRE) devices, computerized voting machines that work much like bank automated teller machines… [that] also have the capacity to provide ballots in an unlimited number of languages, making them the most accessible to language minorities among any of the machines.”

May 26, 2004


Demos, a public policy research and advocacy organization, in a May 5, 2004 report entitled “U.S. Election Assistance Commission Public Hearing on the Use, Security, and Reliability of Electronic Voting Systems,” offered the following:

“Paper ballots in English or a limited variety of other languages and a lack of translators at the polls make voting impossible for many language minority citizens. Poorly trained poll workers can misdirect and sometimes intimidate voters… DRE technology can readily display ballots in different languages, enabling people to vote in their first language… DREs can offer audio ballot choices or juxtapose pictures of candidates with text, enabling citizens with limited literacy to vote…

Text-to-voice and other electronic technology makes the vote checking process available to sight impaired and language minority voters. The DRE can be programmed to prevent voters from entering both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to a ballot question. DREs offer persons with disabilities, language minority citizens, and others historically marginalized voters their first real opportunity for full access to a secret ballot. Adoption of this voting system fulfills a core purpose of the Help America Vote Act.”

May 5, 2004


The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a Hispanic advocacy group, in a May 5, 2004 testimony before the U.S. Election Assistance Commission entitled “Voting Technology and Language Minority Voters,” stated:

“We believe that DREs have the inherent capacity to allow language minorities, people with disabilities, and those with limited literacy skills the opportunity to vote independently and privately. For the first time language minority voters will not have to rely on interpreters – who often are not available – or be forced to compare a translated sample ballot to the actual ballot…

And research shows that people with low literacy skills are more likely to be able to operate a DRE voting machine, thanks to its didactic nature… Voters using electronic machines can vote in Chinese, English, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese, or use headsets to listen to the ballot read in those languages. By contrast, optical scan voting systems cannot provide this multilingual capacity.”

May 5, 2004

CON (no)


The Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund (PRLDEF), a civil rights organization, in a May 2007 presentation entitled “Statement of Concern Regarding H.R. 811 and the Problems of Electronic Voting Technologies and Electronic Ballots,” stated:

“Technical experts and advocacy groups have brought to our attention the serious matter of electronic voting systems’ ability to process electronic ballots differently when different languages are chosen. Experience has taught us to be wary of differences in the treatment of different ethnic groups, since differences inevitably present opportunities for unjust discrimination. Indeed, there is already evidence that these differences in processing may be discriminating against minority voters.

Votes cast in Spanish were lost during a touch screen machine demonstration to the California legislature, but the system worked properly when English was chosen. Touch-screen review screens failed to display votes properly when Spanish was selected in official parallel testing on election day in Palm Beach County, Florida. In New Mexico, during the 2004 election, electronic ballots in Hispanic and Native American precincts registered three times as many undervotes (no vote cast) as the electronic ballots in Anglo precincts. But when the state switched to paper ballots, the undervote rates in minority precincts were comparable to those in Anglo precincts.

While electronic voting machines promise greater accessibility for voters with limited English proficiency and those who have disabilities, the opportunity they present for ethnic profiling by language choice is unacceptable.”

May 2007


The Florida Voters Coalition, an election reform advocacy group, in a May 1, 2007 position statement entitled “2007 Position Paper on Voting Systems,” offered:

“Language minority voters must have reasonable parity with English-speaking voters, where federal, state, or county law requires voting be conducted in multiple languages…

Make voter verified paper ballots (VVPB)–hereinafter defined as durable paper ballots, hand marked by the voter or by a certified non-tabulating ballot-marking device–the official record of every vote. Optical Scan VVPB systems with, accessible ballot marking devices and reasonable multi-lingual parity where required by federal, state, or county law, comply with this standard. Direct Recording Electronic devices (DREs), whether fitted with printers or not, do not comply because they have proven insecure, error-prone, and they disenfranchise voters. Nonetheless, accessible ballot marking devices must have no less a standard of accessibility than that of current DREs.”

May 1, 2007


Warren Stewart, Director of Legislative Issues and Policy at VoteTrustUSA, as quoted in a May 1, 2007 The Community World article entitled “Peoria Should Talk About Voting Machines,” stated:

“Many states have already come to the conclusion that a paper ballot voting system – with ballots either counted by hand or with optical scanners – is not only more accurate and reliable but it is also significantly less expensive… innovative ballot-marking devices and other systems have allowed 17 entire states and jurisdictions in another 16 states to retain paper ballot systems while still providing voters with disabilities and language minority voters with the opportunity to cast their votes privately and independently.”

May 1, 2007


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in a May 3, 2007 article entitled “ACLU Applauds Florida Legislature for Scrapping Flawed Voting Machines,” stated:

“The ACLU is urging counties with electronic voting machines to ensure access to paper ballots for disabled voters and not force them to vote on the DRE machines that have been plagued by unrecorded votes (undervotes) and provide no basis for a meaningful recount… The ACLU is also urging Florida counties to ensure accessibility to ballots for language-minorities by using software that has the capacity to support multiple languages… This is an historic vote and drastically shifts the direction our entire country is heading with regard to voting technology… counties must guarantee that paper ballots are going to be used for all voters, and that disabled and language-minority voters are not going to be left behind.”

May 3, 2007